Ever since our initial bid for ACRC, we’ve been discussing how we can better localise decision-making and decolonise knowledge processes. While led from The University of Manchester and funded by FCDO, we’ve sought to prioritise African expertise within the consortium partnership, to increase African leadership within the senior management team (SMT) and to undertake research and uptake activities primarily through local city teams.

During our foundation phase, consortium members identified the potential to further refine our structures, communications and research methodologies. Since then, much has happened behind the scenes – and this post attempts to (briefly) summarise the issues people have raised.

Taking the temperature of ACRC colleagues 

In March 2023, we surveyed everyone involved in ACRC’s foundation phase research and uptake around perceptions of coloniality, knowledge and power, compared to the development industry as a whole. We wanted to better understand the perspectives and actual experiences of people across all 12 cities and eight domains, to inform our future plans and communications.

Comprising a series of 28 questions, the survey was split into four sections: “colonial attitudes”, “knowledge and power”, “who benefits?” and “looking forward”. It was completed by 56 respondents: 39 of Black African ethnicity (35 resident in Africa) and 13 of non-African ethnicity (all resident outside Africa).

Overall, ACRC generally performed better than the development industry as a whole, though on certain issues, a significant minority judged ACRC unfavourably. ACRC’s weakest area was perceived to be imbalances of power over strategic decision-making. Additionally, African respondents tended to have less favourable views of both the development industry and ACRC compared to non-Africans.

However, ACRC could take some heart from the responses on “dignity and respect”, “partnership” and “authority being justified by skills and knowledge”, where most respondents across all ethnicities judged it favourably. This in particular was encouraging and useful with respect to decentralisation plans for ACRC’s implementation phase.

The survey results and implications were discussed at our consortium-wide meeting in Dar es Salaam in May 2023. A more detailed version of the results is available here.

Follow-up interviews

To bolster the survey findings, Edwin Kibui Rwigi (who was a Nairobi-based consultant at the time) conducted a follow-up qualitative study, which sought to explore the reasons people had for their views. Between May and October 2023, he interviewed 18 participants, with questions exploring perceptions of colonial attitudes, power and rewards in the ACRC project.

Overall, the results suggested that ACRC’s temperature check survey and qualitative interview exercise were well-received, and interviewees appreciated the meaningful discussions they sparked. However, there was a consensus that more progress was needed in decolonising practices.

Respondents were concerned about the role of FCDO and potential promotion of British interests in funding research on African cities. Concerns regarding inclusive representation within ACRC’s SMT were also raised. The use of analytical frameworks was viewed as both valuable for cross-comparison but also limiting due to inflexibility in certain contexts.

Overall, there were calls for a more critical and reflexive engagement with knowledge production in the project. Results also indicated concerns around power and interests in the process of identifying potential action research projects for the implementation phase. Compensation was also a contentious matter, with some feeling that the workload and remuneration were disproportionate.

Despite these challenges, respondents remained hopeful that ACRC would address these issues in implementation phase of the project.


The report made a number of recommendations, which SMT has responded to. In short, these are:

1. Define a clear decolonisation agenda

SMT response: We have an agenda that involves diverse actions to support local ownership, decision-making and multiple contributions, but we appreciate that we may not have articulated it clearly enough. ACRC’s decolonisation agenda engages with issues related to colonisation and also considers the manifestation of unequal power relations and their consequences in other dimensions including those related to gender, age and class.

This is a difficult balance. We do not want to diminish the impacts of colonisation, but we do not want other dimensions of adverse power relations to be overlooked. We recognise the importance of a continuing conversation underpinning efforts to structure and support equity. We are keen to revisit the ACRC approach to decolonising research processes once the city-based research and implementation teams are in place for the implementation phase.

2. Engage a diversity and inclusion consultant

SMT response: While we see the merits in this suggestion, the experience of individual members to date is mixed and SMT collectively believes that we would need someone who understands and aligns with our approach to decolonisation. This will be discussed with city managers at the start of the implementation phase.

3. Enhance transparency in city/project selection

SMT response: We take transparency in the selection of cities very seriously. We presented the framework for the selection of cities and projects to the second consortium-wide meeting in May 2023 and received feedback on the experience of the first set of cities with their submissions. We then modified the submission forms to make the process clearer and to facilitate completion. We also made clear both the decision-making criteria and the decision-making process – and will continue to do our best to communicate this with ACRC members.

4. Establish clarity on decentralisation

SMT response: We have committed to a more decentralised process for the implementation phase. This includes both the revision of key frameworks (including the conceptual framework and the theory of change), and the selection and realisation of action research projects in the cities in which we will continue work in the next phase.

5. Improve on-boarding and internal communication

SMT response: We accept that there were gaps in effective communication and knowledge sharing. Starting work during the pandemic reduced the opportunity for initial face-to-face meetings and the staggered phasing of the cities in the foundation phase (due to the UK government’s decision to cut aid) increased these challenges. While we tried to compensate with Zoom meetings alongside written materials and updates, we recognise this wasn’t always sufficient.

6. Adopt city-specific approaches

SMT response: We tried to navigate an approach to research which balances the original ToR from DFID (now FCDO) and the relevance of those ToR to addressing urban programming challenges, with the need for local contextual sensitivity and required flexibility. We recognise the limitations of top-down comparative research frameworks and enabled the domains and city systems teams to take a more flexible approach to political economy and systems analysis.

We remain committed to collaborative endeavours within a meaningful comparative analysis that develops opportunities for cross-city learning and knowledge development. The implementation phase will allow for city teams to pursue more focused interventions that they think will be most effective at catalysing reform.


In addition to these recommendations, we’ve also made a number of other changes to the structure and approach of the ACRC team for the implementation phase. We’ll cover this in the next blog in this series.

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Header photo credit: Hannah van Rooyen. Group discussion at the ACRC consortium-wide meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in May 2023.

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